Poor diet and food insecurity in the UK – the problem

People in poverty have the worst diets and the worst health outcomes; they die younger and get sicker than the rest of the population. This is detailed in The Institute of Health Equity’s 2020 report ‘Health Equity in Britain: The Marmot Review 10 Years On‘.

Research also shows that 25% of observed inequalities in UK mortality are due to inequalities in diet.  The challenges in eating healthy food are not to do with cooking skills.

80% of the people that we work with rate their cooking skills as average to good; yet they are eating unhealthy food and their typical takeaway consumption costs them £900 a year.

50% of households in poverty contain someone with a disability; people on disability benefits are almost 400% more likely than the general population to suffer from a mental health condition. These are the cohorts we work with;

70% suffer from poor mental health and over 50% have long term medical conditions or disability.

Dying younger and getting sicker

There is a social gradient in the proportion of life spent in ill health, with those in poorer areas spending more of their shorter lives in ill health.

‘Health Equity in England: The Marmot Review 10 Years On’.

February 2020

Diet in the UK: what we’re eating

In 2015-2016, Public Health England identified that the general UK population was not eating enough fruit, vegetables, oily fish or fibre, and was eating too much sugar and saturated fat .

Public health campaigns such as the NHS’s ‘5-A-Day’ introduced in the early 2000s saw some positive changes, however the financial crisis of 2007 reversed this progress, and the UK has yet to recover.  ‘Change 4 Life’ launched in 2009.

People on low incomes and those living in neighbourhoods of deprivation are more likely to consume unhealthy diets and are less likely to respond to these public health campaigns (The Marmot Review 2010, Magurie 2015a, Adams 2016).

A recent British Medical Journal (BMJ) report also showed that people on low incomes have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic due to being more vulnerable to serious disease, loss of unemployment/job insecurity and loss of access to free services.

Why does a healthy diet matter?

Eating a healthy diet – which means one that is high in fruit and vegetables, low in salt, sugar and fat – is considered a major way to reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases and increase quality of life. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that poor diet is related to 30% of years of life lost globally due to early death and disability  (WHO 2002).

Chronic diseases have devastating effects on the lives and families of people affected,place an enormous strain on the NHS, and create huge losses to the UK’s economy.

About a third of all deaths are classed as premature. That equates to 44 years of lost life per 1,000 people or 2.6 million years each year across England and Wales.

Around 40% of premature mortality in the UK is caused by preventable cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Why People in Poverty Have Poor Diets

Take six minutes to understand the causes of food poverty

The food poverty cycle

The Food Poverty Cycle

When you’re struggling with multiple challenges in your life, cooking and healthy eating is not a priority.  It can seem much easier to simply heat a microwave meal or get a cheap takeaway.

These food options can keep people trapped in poverty.  Poor food choices affect both physical and mental health, and often they are not as cheap as the home cooked alternative, affecting finances.  Children growing up in such households may feel the effects their whole lives.

Reaching people in these difficulties is our #1 priority.  It is not an easy task to persuade people who have many other priorities to attend what they may perceive as an “inessential” course.  This is what we do every single day.  We work with referral partners and do direct outreach to attract, and retain, the people who we believe need us the most.

When they are on the course, we provide every support to help them to finish it and reap the benefits.  Our staff are expert  at working with individuals with high needs.  We know when to cajole, when to support and when to push them just that bit further than they thought they could go.  We understand their barriers and their motivations and adjust accordingly.